By: Toby Sallee
Those of you on our blog mailing list have seen my name for a while now, and probably wondered who I am; allow me to formally introduce myself. I am a researcher at the Community Research Collaborative (CRC) at the Institute for Policy Research. Starting today, I am also the newest CRC Blogger.
I have often been called a “data person” (or data nerd, wonk, or… well you get the idea)
I spend a large portion of my days buried in national and local data sets-making maps, putting together presentations, and doing analysis- so that assessment is certainly true. However, my interest in data goes beyond an interest in numbers and measurement. I am interested in what the data can tell us about our community and how I can best communicate the findings.
Here is a little known fact: My background is in communication. How did someone with a background in communication end up as a data person (and proud of it)? I’m glad you asked.
My interest in data was piqued while looking at how varying the presentation method alters how people engage with it. Now I know most of you are thinking, “Yeah, we know that; Graphs make things easier to understand”. While that is true, what I am talking about runs deeper.
As someone who enjoys working with data, I see all kinds of intricacies in a data sheet; I dive in, noting takeaways and discussion points. For the dataphobes among us, that may not be the case. Being presented with a table of numbers may not lead to an insight, but rather, a headache and an overwhelming desire to look away. Others, while not afraid or overwhelmed by data, consider data with the same martyred expression many children have when eating Brussels sprouts- a necessary evil. While that might be a bit of a stretch (though, perhaps not), the truth is many people do not enjoy decoding data.
That is where I come in. Finding a way to help people understand and see the relevance of data is my favorite part of what I do. I help distill this:
Both contain the exact same data, but I am willing to bet that most of you looked at the infographic longer than the table.
Another example- The table below describes poverty in the City of Cincinnati.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey
So does this paragraph:
Nearly 100,000 people are living in poverty in the City of Cincinnati. That is more than 3 in 10 of our residents.
Minorities have a higher poverty rate than non-Hispanic whites. Adults with some college/associate’s degree or higher have lower poverty rates than people with less education.
If we look just at children in the City of Cincinnati, we find that more than 1 in 2 children are living in poverty. That translates to almost 35,000 kids.
For some, the table is compelling. More often, however, the paragraph is easier to understand and generates more conversation.
Different presentation methods speak to different groups of people. Infographics and narratives are just two possibilities out of dozens of ways to present data. Animations, interactive data displays, maps and more help our community hear the story that the data are telling.
Data cannot inform our decisions if they aren’t available, compelling, and brought into the discussion.
I enjoy connecting people to data. In some cases, it may be a simple as sending a link to a super nerdy Census paper. In other situations, I try to unpack the findings into an easier to digest format for the dataphobes among us. To that end, through this blog I hope to share some of the compelling stories I find in the data in a way that appeals to people across the data spectrum.
If there are any specific topics you would like to see covered, please leave a comment below or tweet your suggestion to @CRCFacts.